When you're the Queen, you get to go do things differently — like legally owning all the dolphins and swans in England, being woken by a bagpiper rather than a screeching iPhone and going back to work for the year in February.

On Wednesday this week, Her Majesty stepped out for her first official outing of the year, in this instance opening a new pumping station on her Sandringham Estate (And you thought being the monarch was dull, sheesh…).

This was the 93-year-old's return to work after a turbulent, trying New Year period which saw her grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Duchess of Sussex sensationally quit royal life and her son Prince Andrew besieged by a fresh flurry of controversy.

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The day Harry and Meghan checked out of the royal family


However, despite Her Majesty's usual restrained demeanour, signature Hermes headscarf firmly in place as she put in a cheerfully, curiously interested appearance (the poor woman was staring at pumping equipment for heaven's sake) this is a big, emotional week for the Queen. Thursday was a day she must dread every year, namely the day her beloved father King George VI died.

Capricious love changed the course of Lilibet's life. In 1936, aged only 10, her Uncle David, aka King Edward VIII stunningly abdicated to marry a woman who, historians agree, was not that keen on actually marrying him. The young Princess' future went from being that of any other titled, wealthy woman (think a lot of dogs, brisk walks, and cantering ponies) to being thrust on to the world stage and unwillingly pressed into the service of her country. She had no say and no way out.

In February 1952, she was holidaying with husband Prince Philip in Kenya when news broke that her Dad had died at the age of only 52. Since then she has spent every Christmas and New Year at the vast Victorian red brick pile, staying until the anniversary of her Dad's death before starting her working year.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in the gardens at Windsor Castle in 1946. Photo / Getty Images
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in the gardens at Windsor Castle in 1946. Photo / Getty Images

February 6th is not just the day she lost someone she very much loved, it also marks the day her life and what agency she had over it was wrenched out of her hands. As any student of history, royal obsessive or someone who has binged the first season of the Crown will know, ascending to the throne meant personal sacrifice. At age 25, with two young children, she had no choice but to assume a job she never asked for and yet to this day has done painstakingly and without complaint.

All of which is to say, her life has been defined by an indefatigable commitment to duty over doing whatever she might have actually wanted to with her life. And which is why it is impossible not to wonder if, on a day so symbolic of her personal forfeit, Harry and Meghan's leaving might have felt just that much more painful.

On January 13 when Her Majesty put out an unusually personal statement confirming that she had given them permission to step back from being working members of the royal family her sadness was palpable. As the family's matriarch, the fact that the Sussexes' felt they needed to leave the UK for an extended period of time must have been upsetting. And as the Sovereign, she would have been keenly aware of the toll their resignation would have on The Firm's image and standing.

Time and again during her lifetime, the Queen has been faced with having to choose between duty and personal happiness. It happened with Princess Margaret forgoing marriage to Group Captain Peter Townsend (In the poignant statement the 25-year-old Princess released at the time she wrote that "conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before others"). And again with Charles not being able to marry the woman he really loved.

In fact, in 2012 Margaret Rhodes, the Queen's first cousin and longtime friend, said of the nonagenarian: "In doing that job, you have to squash the self of you in order to give yourself wholeheartedly to the job."


In ditching royal life Harry and Meghan were very clearly refusing to "squash" themselves any further. An inscrutable cipher, just what would the Queen have made of the young couple's choice to bail on royal life? Are there times she regrets or mourns all those moments when she has had to "squash" herself? Does she judge Harry and Meghan for forgoing their royal obligations in the name of personal freedom and (hopefully) much greater happiness? Or is she envious that they have been able to cast off the royal shackles and are able to shape the lives they want?

On Thursday, Harry and Meghan were reportedly in Miami where they gave an allegedly paid speech at a JP Morgan event. And on Thursday, the Queen was at Sandringham on a day that must be a reminder of all that she has given up in the name of diligently ruling a nation and the Commonwealth.

The sad truth is that the Sussexes' have chosen a path, rightly or wrongly, that the Queen never gave herself permission to even consider and there is something deeply poignant about that.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australasia's leading media titles.